Recently I was gently chided by a reader for some of my word choices. To be precise, she has noticed my fondness for dropping f-bombs and made the courageous choice to call me out on it. We’ll call her K. She has been reading my posts and, while overall her feedback has been embarrassingly complimentary, this time K wagged her finger at me a bit.
I actually had a feeling this might be coming. You might be alienating potential readers. Yes, that might be true. You don’t need to pepper your stories with profanity. it’s good enough without it. Well ... And anyway, it’s not who you are. At this point I stopped her: actually, it IS who I am. Anyone who has ever worked out with me, shared a meal or had drinks with me, or really spent much time at all with me has undoubtedly noticed my enthusiasm for well-placed expletives. Writing this stuff (K, see how I said stuff that time instead of shit?) is truly an exercise in giving air time to the things bouncing around between my ears all day. And when I sit down to give voice to the thoughts, the irreverent rule-breaking bad word does just kind of slide off the palate. So, yes, the spicy language really is exactly who I am. My dad, listening in on the conversation, chuckled and chimed in with In other words kid, clean up your fucking language. He’s a funny guy. He’s also the one who told me It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission which might sound like pretty unconventional parenting advice, but I suppose that’s for another post.
K has a point though. She's very smart. I admire her. On more than one occasion I have sought her advice. When she speaks, I listen. Her comments definitely got me thinking. I do believe in the importance and power of packaging. Any message can be less effective or lost entirely if it’s delivered poorly. Anyone who has been in a relationship with another human being knows this. If you have children or work with children or have ever interacted with children, you know this. We adults know a thing or two about a lot of stuff. But kids know everything and they sometimes really would rather not listen to us because we clearly know nothing even though we’ve been on the planet awhile and they just got here. Then again, they might be right. Adults may be idiots. We still believe in the electoral college, for example. Anyway, the point is we’ve all experienced the well-intentioned message that the recipient simply could not “hear” because it was hurled like a balled up pair of dirty socks aimed at the laundry basket across the room. It wasn’t what you said, it was how you said it. Packaging matters. Yes. Got it.
I know the power of language as a coach too, and the potential efficacy of throwing in the spicy word now and then. I like to think I’m scrupulous about picking the proper moments to use non-church words with my players. Never directed at them. Used selectively. Always at a conservative volume. Never in anger. Not gratuitous. Only to make a point. Know your demographic. Etc. In my 23 years of coaching, I’ve only had one end-of-season evaluation in which a player said I swore too much. Not a proud moment for me, I admit, when I read that one. But I’m pretty sure I only said fuck once or twice in front of my team that whole season. Okay, maybe five or six times. It’s not like I’m counting.
Then again, this writing thing is a bit of a journey and I’m not convinced the safest route is the best. I could easily offend someone by referring to my long Sunday trail runs in the Green Mountains as my church. I just dissed the electoral college a minute ago. I think you should be able to marry whoever you choose. Hell, marry your goat! I also don’t give a rat’s ass which bathroom you use as long as you don’t try to use the same toilet I’m sitting on at the time. Feel free to worship at the altar of Abraxas or Holy Breast Milk if you want to. How many of you have I alienated now? But that’s not really the point. This is not about shock value. Writing is not about alienating people or not alienating people. It’s about living and the human experience and putting stuff out there and connecting and working it all out in real time. It can be dangerous. I think it’s supposed to be at least a little bit risky. But I don’t really know. I don’t have an editor. I don’t even know who my readership is. (Who my readership are? See… the perils of having no editor…)
What I am counting on is that my occasionally vulgar choice of words are embedded in enough savvy humor that those who might be offended can survive the experience mostly unscarred with just a wince or two and that those of you who like it edgy will find something to like. And, if nothing else, a brief foray into whatever the hell I wrote this time will at the very least do no harm and might even provide a couple of minutes respite from whatever keeps you awake in the middle of the night.